Like many University students, LSA sophomore Chris Chiles says drugs should be decriminalized.

Kelly Fraser
LSA sophomore Chris Chiles, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Michigan, aims to change drug laws and educate students on campus about their legal rights (CLIF REEDER/Daily).

Unlike many University students, he’s decided to do something about it.

This year, Chiles decided to re-form the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a national group that pushes for the liberalization of drug laws. It was formed in 1998, but its presence on campus had deteriorated. The University chapter had about 20 members at the beginning of the school year and now has several dozen more students that are considering membership in the group, said Chiles, the group’s executive director.

The organization was initially created after Congress added a clause called the Aid Elimination Penalty to the Higher Education Act in 1998. Under the new clause, students with drug convictions were denied access to federal financial aid, including loans, grants and work-study.

According to the group’s website, almost 200,000 students have been denied financial aid because of the policy.

Last year, Congress scaled back the Aid Elimination Penalty, for which SSDP takes partial credit. Under scaled back regulations, the clause will affect only students convicted of drug offenses during their time as financially-supported students. But Chiles, who has never faced drug charges, said more needs to be done by the government.

“It doesn’t make sense to pull students out of school in order to decrease drug problems and abuse,” he said.

Chiles said making drugs illegal creates an underground black market and funds violent criminals immersed in the drug trade. He said the government should regulate all illicit drugs in a manner similar to its dealings with alcohol and tobacco.

“People are getting tired of wasting tax money on an unwinnable war,” Chiles said.

Drug policy is an issue that divides Americans – but not along the traditional expected party lines.

LSA junior Justin Zatkoff, chair of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, said opinions on the drug issue are widely split within the University’s chapter of College Republicans. While some think there should be harsher penalties for drug offenses, other members take a more libertarian view and side with SSDP.

Zatkoff said people should obey all drug laws even though he thinks several of these laws may be unjust.

“While many of us may not agree with the pretense behind the law it’s important for students to be aware that if they want to take federal financial aid they better stay clean,” Zatkoff said.

SSDP doesn’t encourage or condemn drug use by individuals, Chiles said.

Chiles said the issue of drug policy affects students on campus whether they use drugs or they don’t.

“Certain drugs are dangerous, but we’ve got to consider how students are being harmed more than helped by the war on drugs,” Chiles said. “Drug users need rehabilitation, not criminal records that prevent them from rejoining legitimate society.”

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